PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- If this gloomy sports era has made you hesitant to invest any more effort into liking any more athletes, by all means do not drift into the Tampa Bay Rays locker room, and do not go near the Cy Young Award winner. There lies confusion and peril.
In the grand categories of athlete interviews which include Glad That's Over, and Whew, That Was A Challenge, and Wow, That Was Interesting, and What A Nice Guy, and I Did Not Know Anyone Could Fit That Many Cliches Into That Short A Time, 20 minutes with David Price turns up in the rare area of Wouldn't Have Minded Listening To Him For Hours, Even Over A Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato, No-Whip, Extra Caramel (apparently his preference).
He's a conversation, not an interview, rich in eye contact, lavish in the quality the French call bien dans sa peau (comfortable in his own skin). He loves his Cy Young Award but has no inkling of basking in it. For a Cy Young role model, he chooses Justin Verlander, who won in 2011 and then returned to finish just four puny points short of Price the next year. Price thinks his award could have the engravings of "60 or 70 other names" of people who helped, including Tim Corbin (his coach at Vanderbilt) and Derek Johnson (his pitching coach at Vanderbilt) -- Corbin having taught him "how to carry myself," and having given him the mantra: "When you're somewhere, be present."
He had a strange moment last November, days after his "whole body just went numb and limp" at the moment of his Cy Young announcement on Nov. 14. Even on all his intra-division trips to New York, nobody had ever recognized him, plausible in such an insular sports town. Yet suddenly, near Times Square, hailing a cab in bruising weather he estimated at "20 degrees," all bundled up and chivalrous, his girlfriend waiting back by the building, he took on a stream of passerby congratulations in a five-minute span.
Some guy across the street hollered, "Cy! Cy!"
Beyond that, he got some scattered notice in Los Angeles.
"It's cool," he said. "The only time you don't like it is eating. That's the only time I want to kind of be left alone. I don't want to shake somebody's hand and go back to eating. That's kind of gross."
As for his opinion of even mild fame, he says, "I have no idea. I don't consider myself famous. I don't consider myself a celebrity. I remain myself. I don't want to be treated any differently because I'm a Cy Young winner. I don't want to be treated any differently because I'm a professional ballplayer."
All right, that's well and good, but even a jerk could mouth those words, even if not with the same presence and confidence and congeniality. So if you're still holding out, staying aloof, it's probably best to avoid reading what teammates or Rays manager Joe Maddon have to say concerning the clubhouse citizenship of this guy. And then do not, by any means, dial up Corbin in Nashville. You might ask a thousand coaches about a thousand players -- but you'll never hear fondness quite like what Price's former college coach has to say.
There's this: "The environment is better because he's in it. If you take him out of the environment, it's not half as good. He's a multiplier. People want to be around him. He's fun. There's no ego."
And this: "There will not be one ounce of drawback in this kid [post-Cy Young]. He operates completely differently from anyone I've ever been around. He's not one of those kinds where he will ever have the thought in his mind, 'I've made it.'"
And then this: "I know the left arm is special, but nothing is more special than this kid's mind and heart … He's different. He's got an awareness of everything about himself and an awareness of everything around him. Everything that comes out of his mouth is natural. Nothing is manufactured. What you see is what you get … He sees himself as a human being. He likes where he's going. He loves what he's doing. It is a passion for him. He doesn't take it for granted, either."
And also this: "He treats everyone the same way. He treats the clubhouse person, he treats the best player, he treats the role player, he treats the coaches, he treats the manager, he treats the parking lot attendant, all the same. All environments are better because he's inside of it, because he makes it fun. He's kind to people, picks up on people. There are not a lot of males out there that are good at that, especially when they're that good and have been told all their lives they're good at what they do."
Finally, despite Vanderbilt's excellent baseball program, Corbin had this to say regarding Price's departure to the bigs after 2007: "What we haven't recovered is that personality. We've had a lot of great players and a lot of special people. He's just a different individual."
So as the objectively appealing Rays seek a sixth straight year of fine contention, and a Cy Young winner tries to build on the season where he went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA after working on improving his fastball command, and as he might even end up elsewhere given financial realities, let's just say impartially that if Price sustained his success, that would not be terrible, even if you don't fancy standing across the street and hollering, "Cy!"